Notes On Friendship And Destitution

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

On some recent sunny evenings in south Minneapolis, an advertised reading group met to discuss the book Joyful Militancy. One of the discussions was framed with a question posed by the book: “How do we create situations where we feel more alive and capable than before?”

The book primarily draws from the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, which would be difficult to summarize here but I will attempt to quickly explain the relevant concepts as I go along for those who are unfamiliar. To make it easier I’m actually going to start with ideas proposed in the essay “Robot Seals as Counter Insurgency” which is cited by Joyful Militancy. The essay suggests:

“There is no category of ‘friend’, just as there is no ‘community’, there is only the experience of becoming friends, and of finding power in one another.”

This finding power in one another is what the authors of Joyful Militancy, following Spinoza, call joy. It’s an affect, not an emotion, which has certainly led to some confusion. The opposite of joy is what Spinoza called sadness, by which we become separated from our power of acting. He saw sadness as an affect needed by the ‘powers that be’ to keep their subjects powerless—something that those he’s influenced have continued to expand on.

Notably, many see the atomization and individualizing forms of life that are pervasive today as means by which powerlessness is proliferated. The essay “Robot Seals” proposes a possible response of finding power in one another “by redefining the self: not as some singular entity, but as that which is co-created through the process of friendship.”

I see this as pointing to a density of affective relationships that draw us into struggle against domination. We are drawn not out of duty, which would be a moral position, nor individualized self-interest, but as a collective instinct. This collective instinct is what could be called an ethical disposition.

To put it simply, it may be that we have to find ways to spread joyful affects to short circuit the sad affects this world proliferates. There’s a quite philosophical language being employed here but the meaning is very practical. If we are kept powerless through atomization, then perhaps we can find power in building a life in common with others—and not simply in terms of collective living situations. If the economy saps so much of our time and energy—needing to work to pay for rent, for food, etc.—perhaps can we find ways to loosen its grip on our lives together.

These questions have been asked before, and most often the answer tends to be counter-cultural, or lifestylist. But in connecting the spread of joyful affects with the reduction of sad affects, we can see a different answer emerge, that of destitution. Destitution is the a name a few have given to a certain fusion of living and struggling, a living that inevitably entails conflict with order.

In their book Now, the Invisible Committee summarize it swiftly:

“The destituent gesture is thus desertion and attack, creation and wrecking, and all at once, in the same gesture.”

I opened with the question “how do we create situations where we feel more alive and capable than before?” I see this practice of destitution as a compelling response.

Postscript on Spinoza

My reading of Spinoza comes from Gilles Deleuze’s first lecture on the philosopher, which is cited in Joyful Militancy as well. I haven’t given many of his concepts the space they require for a full elaboration, and hope that more critical readers bear that in mind.

The phrase ‘powers that be’ is taken from Deleuze’s lecture, while Joyful Militancy, “Robot Seals” and others have taken up the term Empire in its place. I’ve chosen to omit the word Empire only in order to avoid also taking up its theoretical history, even if I do find it more useful in the end.

Regarding philosophy or theory in general, I should note that I have never attended University, nor have I ever read a word of it in school.

Call For The Creative Destruction Of Rental Scooters

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

As rental scooters are poised to re-emerge on the thawed streets of Minneapolis, this call aims to encourage the disruption and subversion of their reintroduction to our city.

Rental scooters are coming back to the Twin Cities. There was little doubt that this was the case, but in the beginning of March the city of Minneapolis confirmed that as winter fades our streets will soon be littered with scooters once more. There will be more than triple the amount as last year, and featuring even more brands than before.

Why does this matter? Because these scooters are a hyper-visible manifestation of the high tech Silicon Valley-ization of daily life. These tech start-ups are reshaping what it means to move around the city with simply a few clicks on an app—smuggled right under our noses with claims of eco-friendliness. Rental scooters are emblematic of a way of living in which every aspect of our lives is made into data. This data is then tracked, studied and used to make algorithms with the intention of not only predicting but also producing normative behavior.

However, their visibility is also a vulnerability. They are easily accessible all over our streets, which means the opportunity to sabotage them is equally accessible. Because of this, the scooters have the potential to spread disruptive practices. While these scooters intend to shape particular ways of living, the ease of their destruction in fact allows for the subversion of this goal.

This potential can be seen already eslewhere, especially in California where companies like Bird and Lime have filled the streets to the brim with scooters since 2017. The most notorious Instagram page, @birdgraveyard, which recently surpassed the official Bird account for followers, regularly posts photos and videos of scooters being knocked over, broken, and even burned. The “guerrilla war” being waged has sparked coverage by the LA Times, which interviewed numerous southern California residents who complained about the scooters for a variety of reasons. In France—also home to rental scooters, which have been used as weapons by more than one yellow vest rioter—autonomous publication Lundi Matin wrote:

Bird Graveyard shows this: animosity towards scooters expresses itself in various ways and seems to have a multitude of reasons. We can make all kinds of assumptions: joy of destruction, not to participate, to be a grain of sand, hate of Silicon Valley, of capitalism, the privatization of the public space, the monetization of the all human activities, speed, obstruction of sidewalks, etc. – Lundi Matin #157, “Une Mystérieuse Vague de Vandalisme Contre les Trottinettes en Libre-Service”

This call is written for the purpose of better grasping this rich potential for disorder. There could not be a more simple and ironic way to undermine the cybernetic impulse than by the trashing of this latest start-up phenomena. To help, here is a brief list of possible methods of sabotage:

• The simplest tactic has also been the most prevalent—knocking the scooters over. This very likely has no effect on the scooter’s functioning, but still makes one’s discontent clear. Because it does not actually damage the scooter, there is almost no risk in doing this.

Covering up the QR code required to activate the scooter is a quick way to put the scooter out of use temporarily. There are countless ways to cover the QR code, like using markers or stickers. If you really want to go all out, you can also decorate the rest of the scooter too.

• To really put a scooter out of commission, you have to do some damage. Throwing it off of a ledge, snapping it on the ground, cutting the wires, or running it over with a car. People have gone so far as to set them on fire. Whatever it takes to make the scooter unrideable without professional repair.

• Last but certainly not least, scooters can be expropriated—they can be reprogrammed to ride for free. While involving a bit more effort, plus the roughly thirty dollars for a conversion kit, you can make a Bird scooter your own personal vehicle. Search online for the latest info about which scooter models can be liberated and how to buy the kits.

There are no concrete objectives presented here. No municipal measures could be enacted to placate our desires, nor is it likely that the scooter companies will withdraw. The goal is to elaborate a social tension, to spread the practices of disruption far and wide against the easiest of targets. But most importantly, the goal is to have fun—to find the joy in sabotage. Let’s take this opportunity to fuse the passion of creativity with that of destruction.

What’s The Use Of Direct Action?

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

“A thing is revolutionary that actually causes revolutions.”

– The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends

The phrase “direct action” is fairly ubiquitous amongst the radical left, anarchist or other anti-authoritarian milieus. To summarize for those who might not be familiar, direct action refers to acts that directly accomplish their goals. It is often used to illustrate the contrast with electoral organizing and other tactics most often associated with liberal tendencies. According to the phrase’s wikipedia page, the origins of the phrase itself can be traced back to the early 20th century anarchist movement in the United States, and later taken up by civil rights groups and environmental activists, among others. Since its inception, “direct action” has been used to describe an ever-expanding multitude of activities.

Now in 2019, it is clear that the use of the phrase “direct action” has become diluted significantly, which I will examine below. However, I will not reference any specific actions or their communiques because I have no intention to disparage them. In the midst of our miserable hellworld, anyone who takes action against it is a source of inspiration. The purpose of this essay is instead to contribute to a more precise discussion of strategy around what are called direct actions.

The first instance of this dilution I will examine is how it is often used to describe actions that are simply illegal or clandestine. This could be spray painting graffiti slogans around a neighborhood, a particularly daring banner drop, or certain blockades. Often these are simply tactics that happen to be illegal but are used to raise awareness of something rather than have a direct impact itself. Occasionally, the logic used here is that the goal of the action was to raise awareness and therefore the action accomplished that goal directly, though it seems evident that this is a clear divergence from the phrase’s original meaning, as the legality of an action can’t measure its how effective it is.

The most egregious use of “direct action” has been in reference to essentially the opposite of its intended purpose—literally voting. It’s less common, but especially referendums or ballot propositions are occasionally snuck into definitions of direct action because of the way they don’t rely as directly on politicians. This hollows out the phrase of its content and essentially leaves it meaningless—there is nothing direct about voting for change, regardless of whether we cast the votes ourselves.

More often, “direct action” is used to describe actions of a significantly militant magnitude. Arson, bombings, essentially all forms of targeted sabotage. The idea is that the attack on an enemy target disrupts that target’s capacity to operate in some way—this logic appears sound. However, upon further examination there are still some discrepancies. In many cases, these acts of sabotage, no matter how intense, are predicated on one or several demands. Whether the demands are of whatever entity is being targeted or not, oftentimes these attacks either explicitly or implicitly demand that a repressive measure be rescinded, or a company divests from a project, etc. It gets harder to decipher when the demand is implicit—an attack that intervenes during a moment of social tension might not make demands, but takes place in a context where demands are present. With regards to a demand, the attack itself doesn’t directly accomplish the goal, although it puts pressure on the target to concede to the demand in ways petitions never could.

Lastly, mutual aid activities are considered “direct action,” for example food shares, or clothing swaps. In a sense, these are ways of directly taking action against hunger, poverty, and similar conditions. But perhaps a more accurate reading would be that these actions temporarily alleviate the symptoms of these conditions for the participants, but don’t necessarily impact how pervasive those conditions are.

Here is where I will make a slight shift in direction. I’ve addressed above the ways in which “direct action” has been diluted into a nearly meaningless term. But instead of attempting to reclaim it, what I wish to argue is that “direct action” is a fundamentally unstrategic term for analyzing action.

That is not to say “direct action is unstrategic,” only that the question of how direct an action is is fundamentally separate from how strategic an action is. To trace a hypothetical example: overnight, some saboteurs slash the tires of some police cruisers in their city. This directly impacts the ability of the police to patrol the neighborhood and carry out their duties. While the impact of a few tires might be minimal, this is still a direct impact on the functionality of the police. But what really makes an action like this valuable is not adequately described by “direct action.” Hindering the police’s ability to operate opens space for further un-policed activity—although of course this opening will be as minimal as the original attack itself. Regardless, it’s not about whether or not one uses the phrase “direct action” or not, but about the strategic considerations made around the action.

So for the purpose of this essay, let’s drop the confusing terminology and take a fresh look at what makes an action strategically valuable. I’ve identified four helpful components to consider, although there are always more. All four don’t necessarily need to apply simultaneously. First, most simply, is for an action to give strength to friends and comrades elsewhere, symbolic or material. Second, a small action should serve as a kind of practice for acting on a larger scale. Third, is for an action to create what have been called elsewhere “signals of disorder.” Fourth, is the consideration of how an action could resonate with other potential comrades and partisans beyond itself.

When one takes action to express solidarity with others, the key is simply communicating the message to them. It would be natural to get more excited to see others take bolder or riskier actions to express their solidarity with you, but that aspect shouldn’t be a measure of what is or isn’t important. Rather, the value is in forging a sense of connection with others, across neighborhoods, regions, and continents. For example, getting out of jail to news that someone had dropped a banner calling for your release. Especially in the face of isolation, gestures like these can have a real impact.

When one takes action with a crew or affinity group, they are building trust with one another. They are also developing the skills to work together in what can be stressful situations. Whether it is learning to communicate together or how to operate the tools at hand, these are skills we should always be honing. Even acting alone can provide plenty of helpful experience. These skills and relationships will most certainly put us in a better position to act within larger moments of rupture.

In an article of the same name, A.G. Schwarz coined the term “signals of disorder” to refer to a kind of inverse Broken Windows Theory. Against a state that is always veering towards total social control, anything that creates a visible sign of lawlessness—no matter how small—interrupts that narrative. According to Schwarz, “[w]henever we can break their little laws with impunity, we show that the State is weak.”

Schwarz goes on to say “[s]ignals of disorder are contagious. They attract people who also want to be able to touch and alter their world rather than just passing through it. They are easy to replicate and at times, generally beyond our control or prediction, they spread far beyond our circles.” What Schwarz is describing here is the process of resonance. When someone witnesses the aftermath of an action before it’s been swept away from view, or hears of an action later, the action can resonate with them, it can inspire them to act as well. While they are correct about such matters being impossible to predict, we can cultivate an intuition for sensing explosive social tensions. It is far more likely that an action that broaches these tensions will resonate far beyond the original scope of the action.

It can also help when an action is simple to replicate, with materials that are easily accessible, allowing others to not only do it for themselves, but to see themselves as capable of doing it. More than just avoiding specialized tools, this means refusing to enforce a subjective border between actor and spectator. If something is seen as belonging to a certain subculture or identity, others will have a much harder time relating to it in a meaningful way. The process of resonance is never linear, and will not necessarily involve the direct replication of action. When an act resonates, it can give birth to unexpected and even insurrectionary events.

With practice, through creating these signals of disorder and the cultivation of these sensibilities, we grow our power. We become more confident and bold in acting, creating a more favorable terrain for us to act within. This is the construction of our collective capacity, piece by piece. For this, the framework of “direct action” reveals itself to be an inadequate tool for the task. Examining how “direct” an action is can never measure the potential contained within it. Like all inadequate tools, let’s drop it in search of better ones.

A Belated Communique From February’s Ilhan Omar Protest

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

On Sunday, February 17th a small group of right wing protesters rallied in downtown Minneapolis to protest Ilhan Omar over her controversial remarks. Naturally, their protest only gathered a handful of participants and took place in front of the wrong office building. Their protest was a total failure, their march cancelled, and one of their cars ended up with a smashed window, all while instigating internal divisions. While this is a clear victory for those of us who consider ourselves revolutionaries, it seems as if it, like many others against the right in Minnesota, have occurred through luck rather than strategic intelligence.

This occasion offers us the chance to reflect on the shifting political terrain, and have inspired the following brief notes. The ideas are still scattered, being just a single part of a conversation involving a multiplicity of perspectives.

If Donald Trump could be said to have accomplished one thing, it would most certainly be the blow dealt to the U.S. government’s legitimacy, perhaps the hardest seen in recent history. With his election, millions of people took to the streets to voice their refusal. The day of his inauguration we were plunged into a world of mass protest, scandal, and above all, uncertainty. Scrambling to pick up the pieces, Democrats have been split between on the one hand desperately clinging to civil order, and on the other appealing to the disillusioned through left-leaning politicians that claim to be the true face of resistance. And while they have ruffled some feathers amongst the older generations, the ruse succeeds in transforming the terrain of resistance into the political system, instead of where it needs to be: our lives.

In this sense, much of the momentum that arose in the last two years has been folded into the Mueller investigation and the valorization of various liberal politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or in this case, Ilhan Omar. Opposition towards the Trump regime has often carried along with it a defense of the neoliberal order before it was tampered with by the far right—or, for the more conspiratorially-minded, Russia. On the one hand, this offers revolutionaries a wide array of short-term tactical alliances in opposing the current state of affairs. But if we lose sight of the long-term goals, we’re setting ourselves up for inevitable failure.

What we mean is that the struggles against the far right, our democracy’s authoritarian tendencies, and building a better society are not separate. There is only one trajectory: that of building, step by step, an autonomous material force that can carve out space for other ways of living, short circuit the mechanisms of oppression, and destitute the forces of order—whether it’s the bigots attempting to rally or the cops themselves.

Anti-fascism is often presented as a duty, as a moral obligation to deny the far right access to a platform. But we know how ineffective and disempowering it can be to show up to a rally with such a small turnout that you could count it on your hand. Likewise, we have given up the stale practice of rallying on the weekend in the empty downtowns or capitol buildings. The importance of these actions by the right shouldn’t be overestimated.

This is not an argument to let right wing rallies occur unbothered, but to open the question of confrontation to allow for a more strategic dimension. If our energy is depleted reacting to the endless activities of the far right, it doesn’t matter who wins each physical conflict. In building a material force we learn to play to our strengths—we find methods of engagement that increase our capacity to act rather than diminish it. And, just as importantly, we can learn to let go of the sense of obligation to respond every time a right wing event is announced.

Enjoying the company of friends as we waited in so-called “Little Mogadishu” to pounce on right wing activists who would never arrive, we felt powerful. We had come together from so many different walks of life, ready to act collectively if the situation called for it. It hadn’t required an outpouring of resources to watch the right’s plans dissipate in front of their eyes, and risks were kept to a minimum. We intend to build on this success rather than let it fade to memory.

Moving Forward

From Support Cameron

It is with many mixed feelings that I write to inform folks that I am withdrawing from supporting Cameron Crowley, charged with being the hacker “Vigilance”.

Cameron is moving forward with a cooperating plea deal. While I have no reason to believe it will involve cooperating against groups or individuals involved in social justice movements, it is nonetheless at odds with the transparent resistance to collaboration necessary to our movements. While I am saddened, it is important to note that I reached out to Cameron to offer support after he was charged. He had little to no previous relationship to social justice movements.

Cameron’s family and close friends will likely continue to support him and it is my hope that he will have as easy a time as possible while causing no harm for others. I continue to dream of a day when the secret and coercive tools of state violence are no longer a threat and when people who act up to push back against racism and other institutionalized oppression are held up as heros instead of being knocked down and punished.

And so we struggle on.

No Permits = No Pipeline!

From No Line 3 Permits

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is in charge of issuing several permits that Enbridge needs to build its new tar sands pipeline, Line 3.

These people are set to destroy our wetlands, accelerate climate change, decimate wild rice and sacred sites, and bring on some good ol’ racism against Minnesota’s native communities.

No permits means no pipeline, harass your local commissioner today!

Download PDF’s for wheat pasting:



Noise Report: Fireworks and Rage Light Up the Youth Jail in Minneapolis

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

A noise demo was called to take place in Minneapolis on the 21st of August at the start of the nationwide prison strike coordinated across at least seventeen different states. We joined hundreds of others, clanking and screaming down the walls of various jails and prisons across the country, building upon a tradition of militant solidarity with those on the inside. Beyond simply holding people captive and forcing them to work, reducing them to a body that labors, the function of prison is also fundamentally to separate, isolate and reduce life to cells of confinement. If we are yet too weak to tear down the walls that separate us we will let the thud and murmur of our noise break down this isolation. We have heard their call and we will amplify it.

A little after eight o’clock, as the sun was going down, people started trickling into Elliot park. A cop car drove across the lawn and parked in the direction of the soccer field, seemingly not paying us any attention. As groups of more and more people arrived, someone got up with a megaphone and told everyone that the plan was to march to the youth jail a small number of blocks away. They talked about why people would want to wear masks and that we were not there to police each other’s behavior. Another few quick speeches gave people context for the strike and connected it to the struggles taking place in Minnesota prisons and jails. Some not already masked up donned masks and people with banners moved to face in the direction of the street. As the brass marching band played we moved into the street and started marching. Flares were lit and anti prison and anti police chants reverberated off the buildings through nearly empty downtown streets.

This march, however, was not for the downtown pedestrian going to and from work or bar. It’s a weird almost foolish feeling of yelling for ourselves in that emptiness. But when we got to the jail and we saw all the faces and fists held up, some banging on the glass it dispelled any feelings of foolishness. What felt like moments after we arrived to the side of the jail a mortar of fireworks shot a burst of color and a loud boom right above the jail. Someone sprayed “fire to the prisons” onto the ground facing the windows of the cells. Roman candles were passed out to the crowd and shot at the jail as we alternated between chants, the band playing and anti police songs on a mobile boom box. The demands that have circulated along with the call for the strike were read through a megaphone, communicating them to those in the jail as well as everyone else there.

Here again we felt the strange lack of interest in us by the police. Only one squad car and a few cops walking around during our time at the jail. They came and they left. Only a passing interaction—disinterest or disengagement. Who knows really. We did not press our luck. We remind ourselves that we are not validated by our repression. However, next time may we also be more prepared to take advantage of such an opportunity.

Even without the police presence the chants on the return from the jail focused almost exclusively on the police. This is no surprise as they are slavers of the modern day plantation that is prison and violent enforcers of the racial order that is the USA. As we marched back the noise we made was for ourselves, to really feel powerful enough to fight—against a world which produces and fills prisons. We ended with everyone safe in the park. A few short statements were made about the strike and relevant upcoming events, materially supporting repressed comrades in prison who participate in the strike as it progresses. Then we went our separate ways.

During this demo, a little less than half of the people participating wore all black and covered their faces. Some merely covered distinguishing marks and their faces. Masks were handed out. Some took them and some didn’t. Previous noise demos here had increasingly tended toward all black everything as well as dwindling numbers corresponding with the isolation of the group. Given this, the militant composition of the crowd has an important strategic value that we must take seriously. When we ask the question of how to ensure that we as a crowd are both unruly and safe, both combative and joinable, it must be answered situation by situation but in such a way that opens us toward others and others toward the crowd. This noise demo itself comes closer to answering this problem posed by the previous three noise demos here, providing multiple layers of activity, involving multiple social groupings and subjectivities. How we give the multiple space to flourish in common is how we give strength to our movements.

The Strike has just started.

Let’s make sure it stays lit af.

Because fuck a prison and its world.

– a group of friends

Statement in support of Cameron Crowley, alleged to be hacktivist “Vigilance”

From Support Cameron

Philando Castile was murdered by police officer Jeronimo Yanez on July 6, 2016. On June 16, 2017, Yanez was acquitted on all charges. Those mourning the loss of Philando Castile, those outraged by the acquittal of Yanez, and those wishing to change or abolish the racist and destructive law enforcement apparatus, stood up, spoke out, and struck back. The most visible examples were the freeway occupations where community members came together to be side by side in their grief and to disrupt business as usual.

Others also rose up – across the state, the country, and the world – fighting where they stood and adding their voices to the outcry. One such voice was that of the hacktivist, “Vigilance.” Vigilance disrupted a different highway, the “information super highway,” by accessing State-run websites. On May 22, 2018, Cameron Crowley was indicted by the US Federal Government, accused of being the hacktivist Vigilance, and charged with Intentional Access to a Protected Computer, Intentional Damage to a Protected Computer, and Aggravated Identity Theft.

While, at this time, we do not if or how Crowley was involved in Vigilance’s actions, we know the following to be true:

  • Vigilance’s bold actions were taken in solidarity with the movement to end police violence. Any time the case is discussed, this struggle should be centered. Damage to a computer or disruption of someone’s day both pale in comparison to the legacy of police murder.
  • In early news reports, computer security expert Mark Lanterman confirmed that if Vigilance had “malicious intent,” the hacks could have been much worse. This suggests that Vigilance was not acting to cause harm, but rather to draw attention to the injustice of Castile’s murder and Yanez’s acquittal.
  • US Code, Section 1030, under which Crowley is charged, is over-broad. The statute equates principled hacktivism with harm-causing ransomeware and cyber-warfare.
  • In our increasingly computerized world, principled hacktivism – including cyber-civil disobedience – is an important tool for change whose use will only grow. The consequences for cyber-civil disobedience should be no more severe than those for traditional civil disobedience, and hacktivists should have the support of broader movements for social justice.

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Vigilance. As such, we also stand in support of Cameron Crowley who, whether involved or not, is the one facing repercussions for actions taken in the struggle to end police violence. We know that power concedes nothing without a fight. We know that we are fighting one fight with many fronts. We know we are all stronger when we stand together.

Cameron Crowley Support Committee

No Cops In Pride

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

Stonewall was a riot. The chant echoed off the buildings lining Hennepin Ave in downtown Minneapolis as we marched. The sidewalks were filled with thousands of onlookers, expecting to see the annual Pride parade, but instead they saw us. We were maybe one hundred, maybe a little more. One banner leading the way proclaimed “No Cops In Pride.” It was a very loose assortment of activist organizations, radical queers, and even some anarchists. At a snail’s pace, we made our way down the length of the Parade route.

The intention of the demonstration was to disrupt the Pride parade. And by that measurement, it was successful. The parade started around an hour late, and progressed slowly behind us, keeping it’s distance. Given how Pride has been so detached from it’s rebellious roots by way of corporate sponsorship, our desire to interrupt it is clearly a rightful inclination. However, despite our apparent success in doing so, we can go beyond this and take practical steps to materialize our stated desires.

Most striking about the demonstration was the ease with which rhetoric that would be deemed too militant—as if there was such a thing—was taken up by participants. While still many chanted to “prosecute the police”, there were several signs sporting the acronym for “fuck the police” as well. Anarchist and anti-fascist imagery and slogans were easy to spot. Just as many decried capitalism wholesale and called for total police abolition as those who sported pins for electoral campaigns.

Now, this isn’t to complain that the messaging wasn’t “radical enough” or that there wasn’t ideological purity. Really, the rhetoric present reflected a diverse range of perspectives who could find common ground in the rejection of this world—a world where the police who kill with impunity expect our unconditional welcoming into celebrations of resistance. While in the recent past, those who didn’t believe that this was an issue of “bad apple” police officers would likely feel isolated amongst crowds demanding body cameras or a similar reform, the message here was different.

The message was different, and yet the actions the same. While the demonstration did actually disrupt the parade, calling it direct action would be fairly generous. The march was centered around using the visibility of the parade to boost awareness for the cause. If we really believe that in police abolition, for example, we can’t simply continue to stand in the streets, demanding it happen. How can we say that “stonewall was a riot,” and yet deny ourselves this same capacity for revolt?

However, this is also not a call for an abstract militancy. This is about posing a question: to all of us who reject this world, how can we bring about a better world ourselves? Starting from what we have—our skills, resources, and most importantly, our friends—we can build a reality where “no cops in pride” isn’t a demand, it’s a warning. But first, we’ll have to toss off the activist rituals we’ve become accustomed to.

Against The Smart City!

From Nightfall

In April Hennepin County ran the latest demonstration of the EasyMile EZ10, which is not an overpriced treadmill as the name suggests but rather a self-driving shuttle, on the greenway in Uptown. This followed a run of demonstrations along Nicollet Mall that took place during the lead-up to the Super Bowl earlier this year. However, before the test run/photo op could begin a banner was affixed to a bridge directly over the test site reading “Against The Smart City!”

This action resonates strongly with us, so we’re using it as a starting point to elaborate this rallying cry, against the smart city. In the words of the anonymous communique, originally submitted to Conflict MN:

“While touted as progress, there are still those of us who see these projects as only the further deepening of the desert. As our cities become increasingly automated, this process attempts to eclipse not only the possibilities of revolt, but even that of a life of anything but its perpetual (re)production. These automated shuttles will be yet another vehicle for funneling citizens between where they work, shop, and sleep, as mindlessly as the shuttle which carries them.”

The ones who dropped the banner identify these automated shuttles as a new piece in a mosaic of projects designed to smooth the flow of people and capital within the metropolis. In other words, the city is designed to make sure that the only possible forms that life can take are that of producing or reproducing the capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal reality. Although there are not yet plans to permanently deploy the shuttles locally, these tests give us a glimpse of the future form cities will take if no one intervenes.

Most often, these projects are criticized for their role as harbingers of gentrification. And there is no doubt that these shuttles were never meant for the poor. However, we feel the need to expand our critiques. We aren’t opposed to these projects only because they cause displacement, but because they create a way of life we refuse to live.

The smart city is not only the way in which bodies are transported throughout the metropolis. As the name implies, the premise of the smart city can be boiled down to the logic of the smart phone applied at the municipal level. In their 2014 book To Our Friends, the Invisible Committee sketch out a broader picture:

“Behind the futuristic promise of a world of fully linked people and objects, when cars, fridges, watches, vacuums, and dildos are directly connected to each other and to the Internet, there is what is already here: the fact that the most polyvalent of sensors is already in operation: myself. “I” share my geolocation, my mood, my opinions, my account of what I saw today that was awesome or awesomely banal. I ran, so I immediately shared my route, my time, my performance numbers and their self-evaluation. I always post photos of my vacations, my evenings, my riots, my colleagues, of what I’m going to eat and who I’m going to fuck. I appear not to do much and yet I produce a steady stream of data. Whether I work or not, my everyday life, as a stock of information, can always be mined. I am constantly improving the algorithm.”

The automated shuttle was, of course, not the only thing tested during the Super Bowl. Local law enforcement began using FieldWatch, an app that allows police officers to stream video directly from their phones to the command center, at the time staffed by nearly one hundred people. Along with newly installed surveillance cameras, this gave law enforcement a real time view of virtually the entire downtown terrain. While the Super Bowl festivities have left, the police continue to take advantage of their new tools, and have even requested the installation of another thousand cameras.

Looking at these shuttles and cameras alongside the proliferation of new light fixtures such as on Lake Street underneath Hiawatha (as we wrote about in Issue 9), we start to see what the pieces in the mosaic form. Not only a city devoted to the total surveillance of public space, but also the shaping of that space to eliminate the possibility of any disturbances. In other words, “a terrain where all that can happen is what has already been predicted and planned” to quote from this latest communique. Or, as the Invisible Committee wrote:

“The stated ambition of cybernetics is to manage the unforeseeable, and to govern the ungovernable instead of trying to destroy it. The question of cybernetic government is not only, as in the era of political economy, to anticipate in order to plan the action to take, but also to act directly upon the virtual, to structure the possibilities. […] In this vision, the metropolis doesn’t become smart through the decision-making and action of a central government, but appears, as a ‘spontaneous order,’ when its inhabitants ‘find new ways of producing, connecting, and giving meaning to their own data.’”

This “spontaneous order” occurs because the potential for disorder has been foreclosed on by the very structure of the city. Not only do these surveillance projects allow the police to track those they designate potential criminals, they psychologically impact our behaviors and encounters—this is the real panopticon effect. While disorder can never be completely eliminated, the smart city is designed for its maximum attenuation. And to put our cards on the table, we greatly prefer disorder over the world as it exists.

How could we not? It’s clear to everyone that there is something deeply wrong with the state of affairs today. We are told that there are proper, legal channels through which reform will happen—but these channels are only yet another way to structure our possibilities.

The Against The Smart City communique offers a few words of encouragement, with which we’ll close:

“While their fantasy is to build a terrain where all that can happen is what has already been predicted and planned, we know that fundamentally life cannot be reduced to data and in its flux escapes prediction and control. Don’t wait for others to take action for you. Take it yourselves.”

Yes and No: Late Reflections on the May Day March in Minneapolis

Anonymous submission to Conflict Minnesota

This year, a few of us decided that even if we didn’t have much of a plan for May Day, that we were none-the-less determined to have a presence at the May Day march on May 1st, which for as long as people can remember of the recent years has been dominated by leftist organizations like the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/FRSO (a soft Maoist sect), their front groups and others who willingly play along with this sad circus.The circus goes like this: arrive and stand around your little sect if you have one, someone gives you a newspaper or a flier for their next event, signs you up for something, round after round of people talk at you, so much so that you can barely keep awake, then you slump along since in reality it can hardly be called a march, sometimes there are chants, they speak in confusion and accentuate our collective awkwardness, more speeches, more chanting, all so orderly, and one feels their aching lack of power, the power that should be collective, is driven by sadness into our individual bodies. And by ideology, weak thought or sheer will we march on, miraculously even showing up again the next time to receive our lashes.

This time we met, masked up and marched behind a banner featuring a flaming cop car with only the word “yes!”, which was a reference to a banner made and marched behind during the Trump inauguration protests that was a black sheet with only the word “no.” painted on. There’s a little conversation going on here between the two. One emphasizes negation and another affirmation. As revolutionaries we must bow to both. We always contain within us the power to say as Bartleby did “I’d rather not” or “not this time mother fuckers!” We must also affirm what is vital, what is worth living for, what is unique and different according to our taste, and importantly the how of our ethical dispositions. The mobile sound system played pop music and anti-police hip hop. Sometimes this interfered with the sound of the speeches, sometimes it cut through the silence, sometimes it set the tone. Though small, these were attempts to add an open and unruly energy to the event, which the organizers work hard to contain and thwart. Even the peace police sensed a potential (if only symbolic), as one young man nervously and sadly stood arms outstretched between a few in bloc and a police car as we flicked the police off and a few minutes later between us and a wall to prevent the wall from being sprayed, while we weren’t even considering it. They think anything is possible, we simply need to give belief materiality.

We won’t lie and say that it felt great to be there as the awkward extreme end of a protest knowing full well that our lives do not justify protest. We know we’re at war. Our enemies know we’re at war. What is achieved by polite and orderly wimperings of indignation, but a call to better manage the catastrophe? The parade itself seemed a fairly weak showing for all present, as clearly others don’t go and expect to feel their own power there either, so they don’t go. We write to ask ourselves and others what would it take to feel like we aren’t weak, to feel that there is a stake in living, in our commitments to each other and the worlds we share? In the past, marches meant “do not fuck with us” or “we will burn down parliament.” A demonstration demonstrated not our ability to listen to boring speeches and be corralled by police and then go home, but our power to make or unmake worlds (or at least the threat and manifestation of a physical desire to do so). A speech instead stoked an ember that grew to flame. And the powerful trembled because they knew we were also powerful.

Aside from grand words, how do we get there?

It starts by building from where we’re at and recognizing what could be done better. It means starting from a small crew and coming with a bigger crew, multiple crews and affinity groups. There were several random people in the crowd that seemed to want this too. They came alone and bloc’ed up by themselves and gravitated toward us. We decided to be present to make it known that we desire this with others, that we invite you to come the next time there’s a call. You don’t have to wear all black or even cover your face. Bring your friends. Practice staying close and building your trust in each other. Simply being together with others who practice this art as a responsive crowd opens the situation up to other possibilities. For the purpose of breaking down the barriers between those who would bloc up and others who weren’t we decided to attempt a “casual bloc.” Admittedly this is something new to us or perhaps we just have too many black clothes, so instead people were mostly a poorly done black bloc rather than a casual bloc. This distinction doesn’t necessarily have be made along the lines of whether black is worn or not. It is determined by the open character of the bloc—essentially what makes it feel like something others can see themselves within. If covering one’s face is not simply an aesthetic practice of a revolutionary subculture but a necessity for confrontational practice then it needs to become a practice shared by all who desire to engage in militant resistance despite identification. Space must also be made for varying levels of risk to coexist within a bloc. It must be acknowledged that those who come just to be in the street, needing to to leave in the event that the situation becomes too risky still allows for others to hold the streets with them that much longer. There as many ways to be unruly as we can imagine and being a bloc is only one experiment among others. Our intention is to open that door.

Friendship & Resistance

From Nightfall

We’ve now passed the one year mark of Trump’s presidency. This time last year we were fast learning what his reign had in store for us. Following the riotous eruptions nationwide on the day of his inauguration, immense numbers of people participated in Women’s Marches, others spontaneously blockaded airports, and hundreds stormed the UC Berkeley campus on February 1st and laid siege to the police-protected venue hosting Milo Yiannopolous.

In the year since nothing has slowed down. The regime continues to launch assaults on a daily basis: voting down net neutrality, revoking the temporary protected status of thousands of Central American migrants, allowing states to require people to work in order to acquire Medicaid. All of which was punctuated by scandal after scandal, provoking our indignation at Trump’s latest racist remark or indiscretion. Rage against the police as well as the far-right has escalated and spread to every corner of the country.

At the beginning of 2017, we published an essay “Autonomous Organizing in the Age of Trump” which looked to the year ahead while sketching the outline of a possible strategy for resistance. Without falling into passive retrospective we want to consider the past twelve months with this strategy in mind, and to see how we can prepare for the days, months, and years ahead.

Autonomous self-organization is the term we used to describe the approach we laid out. By autonomous we mean actions taken outside of formal organizations, parties, non-profits, etc. In place of organizations we suggest affinity groups, the close circle of friends whom one trusts deeply—as trust and a shared vision is necessary for acting together in a meaningful way. By self-organization we mean that there are no leaders to follow when acting, that affinity groups should strive to take active roles instead of passively participating. In addition to guarding against the threats posed by authoritarianism, repression, and co-optation, self-organization makes our struggles more vital and effective, taking away the passivity inherent in waiting for someone higher up to tell us how to achieve the world we want as well as the disappointments and frustrations we encounter when we go along with something that feels wrong to us just because the more experienced or legitimate people say it is the right path.

On January 20th, 2017 perhaps a thousand people marched from south Minneapolis to downtown against Trump’s inauguration. The night before, posters were wheatpasted along the route of the march with anti-state messages that interrupted the prevalent narrative that Trump was to blame rather than the whole system. After the mass march concluded in front of the county building, some came together on the light rail tracks and began shooting off fireworks, drawing in more and more people bored by the politicians’ speechifying before deciding to march. The crowd shot off more fireworks at the youth jail and vandalized the nearby Wells Fargo headquarters before quietly dispersing. By all accounts, there was no one in charge, just a convergence of affinity groups who each brought their own goals and contributions—fireworks, banners, spray paint, a sound system, etc—together forming a successful action.

Between larger public actions, single affinity groups can take action in a decentralized manner while honing their skills. For example, multiple vandalism attacks on gentrifying businesses in south Minneapolis took place over the past year, with at least three reported in February and one more on Halloween. Beyond these types of attacks, the idea of affinity groups applies more broadly to any time a crew of friends organizes together to accomplish a task, such as a crew of graffiti writers who steal spray cans before painting the town.

It is hard to think of a place where this approach was better put to into practice recently than at the G20 summit in Hamburg. When the police cracked down on the large demonstration on the eve of the summit, the crowd fragmented into smaller mobs that split up throughout the city center, wreaking havoc as they went. Smaller groups attacked police officers, burnt luxury cars, and blockaded intersections all night before crowds re-converged at dawn. The police, who had been prepared for the threat of a single enormous crowd, were powerless to contain the decentralized and autonomous resistance that spread throughout Hamburg. The police would not regain control of the city until the end of the summit. In the meantime, a liberated zone was established and people were free to do as they pleased—perhaps they enjoyed a drink outside with friends, covered the walls in artful slogans, or looted a convenience store. Speaking on revolutionary organization, the Invisible Committee write “by successfully reclaiming urban districts and areas of the countryside, by establishing relatively secure zones, it became possible to go beyond the stage of discrete, anonymous activity on the part of little groups.”

Approaching this question locally, we’re obviously starting from a much smaller scale. Still, there is something to think about when a masked individual steps away from an anti-fascist demonstration and tags “Antifa Zone” on a wall, as happened last August along Cedar Ave. It shows, first of all, that in this neighborhood we have some amount of power, that one could brazenly declare such a thing in broad daylight—if a right-winger could do the same with one of their own slogans, they haven’t dared to try it yet. Second, and perhaps most importantly, it shows that police control is not omnipotent, that there are gaps in the police’s ability to maintain order. It is by expanding these gaps in police power that we open up the potential to create a real “antifa zone” or a liberated space, just as the decentralized attacks in Hamburg opened up such a space despite the twenty thousand police officers summoned to the city.

To expand these gaps through decentralized actions, emphasis is placed on actions that are easy to do, with tools that are easy to acquire. Paint is cheap and easy to find—pouring it in a bottle and tossing it at a bank ATM is simple to accomplish. Ten more affinity groups inspired by the paint attack could easily do the same with a little effort. For example, from the end of summer until Columbus Day, the Pioneer Statue in northeast Minneapolis was vandalized at least four times, presumably by different people or groups. The first was communicated anonymously over counter-info site Conflict MN; those that followed it were apparently inspired by the initial defacement, finding it easy to repeat. Likewise with a wave of vandalism against the police also in northeast Minneapolis. Over the summer several anti-police slogans were seen spray painted in the area, and come autumn there were reports of graffiti at the police union headquarters, a cruiser and the MPD substation itself. From the hand styles it again seems safe to assume these were often from different individuals or affinity groups.

For these practices to truly proliferate, they must spread beyond any particular subculture, scene, or identity. The state and the media have latched onto the term “antifa” as an identity for a certain set of rebels who participate in militant actions. With this label, or any other, individuals are put at a distance from everyone else, making them appear foreign rather than as as one’s neighbor, one’s coworker, one’s friend. The goal with this maneuver is isolation, preventing rebellious practices from spreading all throughout society and reducing backlash when repression strikes.

Taking a step back, a fundamental component of affinity group-based autonomous organizing is of course affinity—that is, friendship. A lot of people don’t have a crew to go to a demonstration with, or go tagging with, or to even speak of these ideas with. Often, there isn’t anyone in our lives who we trust enough for these things, or who is even interested in them. Having public spaces to find each other in are vital to forming the bonds that grow into what we call affinity groups. Spending time together and sharing our lives with one another can strengthen these bonds over time and ultimately form the basis of the liberating experiences we create. Many who have spent time at Standing Rock or other protest encampments in the past have remarked that just the simple fact of living together, of making and sharing food around a fire day in and day out, caused their projects together to proliferate and bloom in ways that no amount of prearranged structure ever could. Putting our lives in common in such a way here in the city can be a more tricky proposition, as cities were in many ways designed to keep people locked into the role of isolated worker-consumers, but this doesn’t mean we can’t take small steps in such a direction. Reading groups, workshops, movie screenings, potlucks are a few of endless possibilities where we can come into contact with others who see the world as we do, with whom we experience community. Through these encounters, constellations of crews and affinity groups can emerge.

As a friend once said, the commune is that which sustains the attack and the attack is that which enlarges the commune. It is through friendship that we build the bonds necessary to self-organize and attack, and it is through attacking this world of misery that we can reclaim a sense of living, fighting because we have something to fight for: each other.